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Kiwanis' Zozobra crew takes over Fourth of July fireworks, moves event to Santa Fe Place Mall

It’s going to be a much quieter Fourth of July in the neighborhoods around Ragle Park and Santa Fe High School. After years of hosting the city’s Independence Day fireworks display and concerts, the event is moving to the Santa Fe Place Mall and nearby Villa Linda Park.

When the Boys and Girls Club told the city in April it had decided against handling the show this year, officials had to scramble to find another group willing to take on the event that typically draws between 3,000 and 4,000 people to the park—and countless more watching from their backyards or other nearby parks.

The task came with a $29,999 check from the city, but the Boys and Girls Club has said in the past that combined with parking, the massive undertaking typically netted only a few thousand dollars for the nonprofit group.

On Wednesday, the City Council agreed to boost that payment by $5,000 for the Kiwanis Club. Organizers say the additional money will go toward more security for the event.

The group plans to do away with the parking charge that, especially after the event was moved from the high school stadium to Ragle Park, often resulted in clogged streets in nearby neighborhoods during the holiday.

“For the neighborhoods, it makes a huge difference,” Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales tells SFR. “Having to walk through streets and having lots of high car traffic in neighborhoods, it was a lot of hardship.”

The mayor says homeowners generally tolerated the intrusion well, but he thinks the new location has the potential to be better.

Food trucks will be stationed between the east side of the mall and the north end of the 11-acre Villa Linda Park. Crowds should still be able to wander freely and set up picnic spots, as they’ve been able to do at Ragle Park.

Kiwanis doesn’t expect the event to be a major fundraiser.

“We just felt that it was part of our civic duty,” Ray Sandoval of Kiwanis says of the afternoon concert that ends with Santa Fe’s signature July Fourth fireworks display just after dark. “It’s something we have a fair amount of experience doing.”

The Kiwanis produce the burning of Zozobra every year, an event that draws tens of thousands to the city’s Fort Marcy Park. Sandoval tells SFR that experience helped inform the need for an extra $5,000 to better protect what he calls the firing zone—the spot where the mortar-type fireworks are shot into the sky.

“Last year, they had a pretty significant delay in the show because there were people who had made their way into the firing zone,” Sandoval explains. “You cannot fire if there are people in that zone, so the show had to wait.”

The delay resulted in more overtime for city public safety crews, so Sandoval hopes the extra cost for the city up front will wash out on the back end of the fireworks display. Access to the mall and Villa Linda Park is also much easier with nearby Rodeo, Airport and Cerrillos roads. The city hopes that, too, will help keep overtime costs lower if police are able to clear the park and mall more quickly after the fireworks.

Santa Fe Fire Marshal Reynaldo Gonzales says the new site will be better in some respects and more of a challenge in others. While the parking lot between the mall and the park provides a better launchpad for the aerial pyrotechnics, the nearby arroyo will be harder for fire trucks to access.

“Having been out there yesterday, there’s not a lot of road access. We’ll have to have hand crews” Gonzales tells SFR outside council chambers. “It’s not uncommon for a small fire to spark, but we’re able to attend to it.”

Kiwanis originally hoped to use the arroyo on the southeast side of the park to launch the display, but the cost to clear brush and keep crews positioned in the right places would likely be prohibitive. By using the parking lot, they can more easily keep a 300-foot perimeter around the launchpad. Sandoval told the City Council on Wednesday that he expected to keep that cost near $6,000. That money is absorbed by the fire department—same thing for police—in its annual overtime budget. 

The group plans to retain the fireworks company for the show, Western Enterprises. The Oklahoma company also handles fireworks for Zozobra each September. "They're just a natural fit because of this relationship over the past years," Sandoval says.

Kiwanis also has a relationship with mall management, which donated space inside the food court to let the group construct Zozobra in a more public location this year.

Ultimately, Sandoval hopes that the event will feel more user friendly to the community. He thinks easier parking, bigger roads around the site, better food and the same ability to spread out a blanket and spend a holiday evening outside is a winning combination.

"We really want people to get out of their cars. We're paying homage to the birth of our nation. This is a community event."

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